Navigating the Legal Qualification Maze

Having qualified as a solicitor through the LPC, I’ve watched the recent developments with the SQE with curious eyes, intrigued as to the experience that trainee solicitors are having with the SQE.

The SQE was created as a replacement for the LPC, designed to increase the accessibility of becoming a solicitor through its lower exam costs and reformatted exam and work experience structure.

So, with the LPC being phased out, and the SQE here to stay, I reached out to a Private Client Solicitor that I recently placed, who is in the unique position of having completed both the LPC and SQE.

A Private Client Solicitor’s thoughts on the SQE

Do you mind starting with why you opted to do the SQE when you’d already completed the LPC?

I opted to complete the SQE2 exams after discussions with my previous firm. Given that I had a wealth of experience in Private Client, and knowing that I wanted to remain in that department, it was suggested that I take the SQE2 exams and use my experience to satisfy the ‘qualifying work experience’ element.

As I had already completed the LPC (Masters), I was given an exemption from SQE1.

The benefit of having the LPC meant you were exempt from the SQE1. How do you feel this impacted your experience of the SQE?

By gaining the exemption, my experience of the SQE was limited to just the second stage (SQE2). 

My experience of SQE 2 was that it was far more invigilated than the LPC. In addition, the questions were far more in depth and I feel better reflected what would be required as a practising solicitor. 

And for completeness, for those who don’t know, could you please give a brief overview of the SQE2?

I haven’t looked into the SQE 1 in depth as I was exempted from this by the LPC but the SQE2 tests students on a number of areas as follows:

  • Interviewing
  • Advocacy
  • Legal writing 
  • Legal drafting 
  • Legal research 
  • Case and matter analysis

All examinations are based on core subject areas (Criminal Litigation, Private Client, Property, Dispute Resolution and Business). 

Interviewing and advocacy are conducted over two days. Each day you will complete one interviewing scenario and one advocacy scenario in the core subject areas. Business is not tested during these assessments. For these exams, I travelled to London. 

The remaining assessments are conducted over a three-day period. Each day you will be tested in two core areas (except the last day which will be business only) where you will be given a scenario in legal writing, drafting a research as well as case and matter analysis. I was able to conduct these exams at my local Pearson centre. 

You’re in the unique position of being one of the very few people who have taken both the LPC and the SQE2. Could you tell us a bit more about your experience of taking the LPC and the SQE2?

I completed the LPC with Masters via distance learning, which included a few weekends on campus. I took my first core exams on site at the campus. However, when we were then impacted by Covid-19, I took the remainder of my exams at home. I chose Private Client, Commercial and Commercial Dispute Resolution as my electives. In addition I complete a dissertation at the end of my LPC to gain the ‘masters’ element. 

I found the LPC stressful given the circumstances. The course ended up being in disarray and I spent the majority of the course teaching myself the content without the support of any tutors. 

Given my experience on the LPC I decided to purchase the course textbooks for the SQE2 and prepare for the exams myself. I found the textbooks incredibly informative and easy to use. The level of details provided gave me adequate insight into the exams coupled with the exemplars on the SRA’s website. 

I found the SQE exams far more structured and well run given that the exams are completed by a central body not a university, and I definitely think that they provided value for money. The staff encountered whilst completing my exams were always helpful and kind.

The examinations are also very different: during your core modules, your core skills are tested during the course of your exams in the LPC, whereas the SQE has segmented them into the SQE2. 

Which qualification did you find more difficult?

I found the SQE exams more difficult given that they were not ‘open book’ as with the LPC. Given the length of time the LPC had been running for there were plenty of exemplars that you were able to take into the exams with you which gave you a good springboard when answering questions. However, I feel the questions asked in the SQE were better quality and more reflective of the day-to-day practice of a solicitor. 

The interviewing and advocacy exams were the most daunting for me during both the SQE and the LPC. However, I was reassured during the LPC as I had both scenarios two weeks before my exam to prepare whereas during the SQE you are given the material 20-40 minutes before your assessment! The time constraints of the SQE2 were more representative of real life and also provided a controlled environment for a more accurate representation of your abilities.

What’s something you’d like law firms, HR teams, and hiring managers to know about the SQE?

I think that there is mistrust currently around the SQE and the quality of the examinations. The exams are still in their early days and there are clearly some inequality issues which need to be addressed to be truly a broad representation of our profession. However, I believe the SQE is progressing in the right direction. The LPC examinations felt outdated and the standards across the board had not been regulated effectively.

Was there anything that surprised you about the SQE2?

The strict running of the assessments surprised me along with the time constraints of each assessment. During my LPC exams I felt I had plenty of time, whereas during the SQE [time constraints] are much shorter. 

With the LPC being phased out, are there any benefits of the LPC that you would have liked to see in the SQE?

Unfortunately, I cannot think of any. The main difference between the examinations is that the LPC is open book. However, the SQE provided some relevant information required for the exam question if the subject matter was out of the ordinary. This may be different for those sitting the SQE1.

And conversely, after taking the SQE2, were there any gaps in your experience that the SQE filled better than the LPC?

I think my skills were refined by completing the SQE. I have been lucky to have brilliant supervisors during my working life who have taught me a great deal. I think by the time I reached the SQE my skills were good enough to help me achieve in the top 20% of candidates and I owe a lot of that to them.

How does it feel to have successfully passed both qualifications needed to become a solicitor in England and Wales?

I feel elated! It has been a long road from when I first decided I wanted a career in law until now. I am very pleased to have started the new role at my current firm and looking forward to getting stuck into my role to further develop my knowledge and skill set.

I really appreciate you taking the time to answer all my questions. I have just a couple more; I’d love to hear about what your experience was like as you worked with me to find the right newly qualified role for you? Or was there anything you’d like me to do more of or that I can improve on? 

Not at all, you and the legal team have been lovely and informative from start to finish and incredibly professional. I felt like I was in really good hands with you and I am very appreciative of all your help. Harvey John’s Legal Team made me feel reassured and informed throughout the whole process. I felt like you took on board what I wanted for a role and made sure that I was the best fit. 

If you want expert career advice, reach out to Hayley Rose. Or check out the Recruitment Room where we share our hints and tips for navigating your way through job applications and interviews.

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